The Undulations of being a Mother (The Awakening)
In Kate Chopin’s, The Awakening, she explicates two female characters that have alternative rationales when mothering their growing children. Adele Ratignolle receives standing ovations from the citizens of Grand Isle while Edna Pontellier is performing as an outcast to the society's Victorian norms. Both women's motherhood towards their children is manageable in their own unique waves of responsibility, interests, and motivation.
Grand Isle applauds Adele Ratignolle for her motherly conduct, as she values her children and what they bring into her life. Adele frowns upon Edna as a mother because Edna is not a “wom[a]n who idolize[s] [her] children and worship[s] [her] husband” (Chopin 12). Adele exemplifies herself to Edna throughout the story by enabling herself to balance her love for her husband, a hobby of making music, and inducing her life within her children’s. In addition, Adele’s capability to value herself and her family’s interests differentiate itself from Edna in that Edna struggles to grasp the responsibilities of taking care of her children while exploring her own fascinations. As Adele takes her last breaths, she whispers to Edna saying to “think of the children” acknowledging that Edna needs to strengthen her skills as a mother when Adele is absent (Chopin 115). By doing so, Adele is highlighting how to be a good mother: by valuing one's children. This is an eye-opening experience for Edna allowing her to realize that Adele is what Edna should ultimately imitate as a mother. As said before, Adele Ratignolle is a role model for Victorian women living in the Grand Isle.
In foil to Adele’s motherhood, Edna ignores her children’s attention and yearns for her. To introduce Edna’s awakening as a mother, Chopin uses “the sea” that “speaks to [Edna’s] soul” to inform the audience that Edna is becoming submerged in her own discoveries as an independent woman (Chopin, 18). Similar to Edna’s awakening as a young woman, the sea holds contemplation and mystery. By indicating that Edna finds fascination in the sea, Chopin is illustrating that Edna is pursuing interests that expand her wills of the youthful soul she wants to further develop. As a repercussion of her personal discoveries, she is unable to grasp attention to her children, unlike Adele. In awe of the “space and solitude” of the sea, Edna begins to lose herself in the “vast expanse of water” in that Chopin uses the sea’s large features to compare to Edna’s yearn for losing her duties as a young mother (Chopin 32). Edna wants to succumb herself to the abundance of what the sea holds: secrets and mediation. Chopin uses the fascination of the sea’s vastness and moonlit sky to distract Edna from her responsibilities as a mother and a young woman living in Grand Isle. Edna shuns social norms of motherhood, and Chopin advocates for mothers to be like her.
By creating a main character like Edna Pontellier, Kate Chopin is encouraging mothers to focus on their independence from their children. “The voice of the sea” invited Edna’s soul to the shoreline because of how “seductive”, never-ending, and “clamoring” the sea is to her point of view (Chopin 120). On the beach of Grand Isle, Edna is unclothed and pondering the “abysses of solitude” laying in front of her. The sea’s mysterious surface captivates Edna’s soul and, consequently, she drowns from the exhaustion of being a mother and having a desire for independence from her family. Nevertheless, Chopin continually hinted at how dangerous the sea was and how overworked the mother became, but Edna’s curiosity from within and on the shoreline took over. This shows how she gave up her life to be a better mother to her children. Chopin writes that “[the children] were a part of [Edna’s] life” (Chopin 121). This illustrates that Edna’s last thoughts were about her children and Leonce, people who the audience disagrees that she valued originally. There is no mention of her love interest, Robert. Implying that Edna did value her children and life so much that she gave her life to save them from the agony of watching their mother turmoil. Overall, Chopin elucidates to readers to act on their own interests and beliefs to form a more personable lifestyle.
All in all, Kate Chopin repeatedly exclaims the importance of independence throughout The Awakening. She intends to encourage readers to follow in the steps of neither Adele nor Edna, but whichever character aligns to their personal interests, achievements, and goals. As an example, Chopin’s life nearly mirrored Edna’s when courting motherhood. Both mothers execute their own style of mothering that suited their lifestyle in the 1800s and today every mother does the same.